International Rail Services: Kent

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 25 October 2023.

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Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Conservative, Ashford 6:31, 25 October 2023

Yes, indeed. The rail network in our part of the world has been good at using the power that comes from the interconnector. My right hon. Friend is right to say that that adds to the greenness of the travel and, in particular, the comparative advantage of international rail travel over international air travel.

My third question is about the new customs arrangements that the EU has devised—and then delayed. I note that the French Government have so much confidence in these arrangements that they have insisted they should not be implemented before the Paris Olympics next summer, but we must expect that the new EES—entry/exit system—will eventually arrive, and Eurostar has argued that the need for more checks, and therefore more staff, is one reason why it cannot yet contemplate reopening Ashford station. So what are the Government doing to make sure that the EES system will not penalise rail travellers?

My fourth question is about the potential new entrant to the market. I appreciate that the proposal is in its early stages, but I assume that if it progresses, the UK Government will need to give some authorisation for it to proceed, and that therefore the Government will need to be in detailed talks with the operator long before any service starts running. Will the Minister agree, in those talks, to put the case for the Kent stations, not least as a way of making the new operation more viable?

My fifth and final question is about the wider issue of cross-channel traffic, which the Minister knows is not only a huge economic positive for east Kent but, far too often, a huge social negative, as blockages at the port of Dover or at the tunnel lead to motorway issues and, at their worst, the gradual coagulation of traffic flows through surprisingly large parts of Kent, some of them quite a long way from the coast. Does the Minister agree that getting more passengers on the train will help to relieve pressure at busy periods on car traffic through the port of Dover and Eurotunnel?

As a final thought, I of course appreciate that not all the levers for the decision are in the Minister’s hands, but I know that my constituents, and many others around Kent and the wider south-east, would appreciate knowing that central Government are on their side in the crusade to bring back the international rail services to Kent.